Friday, July 23, 2010

On making noises...

HALLIE: One reason I love reading comics is for the sounds. In just one day's comics, I found:
  • Sounds of a rubber band flying off a pony tail: DING PWANG TWING
  • Sounds of energetic application to a task: GAH BOOM! AGK AGK!
  • Sounds of frustration: MMPH! RPH!
  • The sound of vomit landing on a keyboard: SPLAT
Ah, the art of onomatopoeia! I love that sound words require just the change of a single letter to completely alter meaning. Consider: DONG... DOING... BOING... BONG... BING... BANG.

My daughter Molly is particular good at sound words. The word I heard her use first for the sound of a polite fart: poot. Speaking of which, Garrison Keillor once did an entire monologue about their range and variation...from the silent but deadly to the bassoon solo.

I put my own sound words in my novels, only to have them often expunged by an editor.

Do you make up words for sounds? Can you use them in a novel?

HANK: Nope, nope, don't use them. And when they're in books I'm reading, they snag me, and stop me, and I always wonder--couldn't the author do better than this?

I mean--I might have someone say--"I told her, one more word, and pow, right
in the kisser."

But I would not say: POW! The gun went off with a bang. (Or anything like that.)

JAN: So Hallie, I now know where your ACK! ACK! ACK! in your emails comes from. The COMICS!

I love putting sounds in novels, probably because I'm way more geared to sound than I am to visuals, but I don't try to mimic them completely or write new words to describe them. I agree with Hank, especially if capitalized, they call too much attention to themselves.

But I do love when I find the exact right word for the exact right sound or mood I want. And I am fond of thwack, thump, and scrape. As well as whistling and hissing sounds.

RHYS: I definitely love involving all five senses when I read, and I do use sound words : I remember writing "the only sound was the deep TOCK TOCK of the grandfather clock. I'm not sure if I've ever needed the sound of vomit hitting a keyboard, but I'll remember it for future reference. I'm actually much more influenced by smells--evoking place through the smells there.

HALLIE: TOCK TOCK does sound like a very big clock. But "tick tick" is a watch. and "Tick, Tick" is a stop watch, and "TICK, TICK, TICK..." is a bomb about to go off. Punctuation matters.

Rhys, how DO you write smells? Sounds (ahem) like another blog topic.

ROBERTA: Yes, I'm happy to know about that keyboard thing too. And Jan, Hallie's also big on ICK! Obviously I haven't given one thought to all of this because I'm coming up blank...ACK! ACK!

HALLIE: ACK and ICK have their uses. But...for the record...the sound of pulling your foot out of something icky that made you say "ACK!" would be splooge.

To amuse ourselves on this Friday, I’ thought I’d offer up a little challenge... what are your sound words for these variations of BANG:
Sound of a shotgun being fired
Sound of a popgun being fired
Sound of a silenced pistol being fired
Sound of a high caliber weapon being fired
Sound of a distant gunfire

To the person who makes up the best sound words will go a copy of either "Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel" or a copy of my new book, "The Everything Guide to Writing a Novel" (to be sent as soon as copies are available!), winner's choice.

The winner will be announced as a comment to this post on Saturday - please check back!


  1. I think most of us (at least, those of us who aren't mystery writers) don't recognize the sound of gunfire. How many times have you seen a news report in which a witness said, oh, I thought it was just a car backfiring? I think a silenced shot goes "thwok".

    You can use so many sounds when you set your scene in a house, and you can slant them for good or evil. The reassuring rumble of the furnace as it comes on--or the cold silence when it doesn't. The tick of heat rising through the heating ducts. The crack of old timbers stretching in the heat of the sun. The creak of a footfall on the stairs, and you know exactly which step it comes from. The organ note when the wind catches the corner of the roof just right. And the crash when your cats knock down your great-grandmother's treasured china vase from the high shelf you carefully put it on.

    Anybody have a good use for "sproing"?

  2. Thwok - I like that.

    Sproing. I think springs sproing when they go haywire. Or it could be the sound of a cowlick that won't stay slicked down.

  3. My first instinct would be to say - No, I never use them - but I have, um, embraced your ACK. That sounds revolting. I do use UM, as you can see. More of a sound than a word, but I generally use it when a character is being sarcastic.

  4. Sproing...I was changing batteries in an appliance yesterday ( a spinning hairdryer...get your mind out of the gutter)and the little battery holder springs kept going the wrong way. Sproing!!

  5. Sound of a shotgun being fired:
    Sound of a popgun being fired:pip!
    Sound of a silenced pistol being fired: fzzzt!
    Sound of a high caliber weapon being fired: blam
    Sound of a distant gunfire: thrumming, rumble, murmur,oh, I know. UH-OH!

    I'm big on Yikes. But that's different.

  6. What a fun challenge! I'm not sure I know what all these sound like, but I'll do my best!

    Sound of a shotgun being fired
    Sound of a popgun being fired: bpob
    Sound of a silenced pistol being fired: phsssh
    Sound of a high caliber weapon being fired: sssszing
    Sound of a distant gunfire: brraat

  7. Sound of a shotgun being fired: Spirrrsh
    Sound of a popgun being fired: Popwap
    Sound of a silenced pistol being fired:Shishthuk
    Sound of a high caliber weapon being fired: Waaquak
    Sound of a distant gunfire:Thrumboom

  8. I've seen authors write things like, "bang, bang, bang" or "pop, pop, pop" when the character is hearing a gunfight, but I've never used any 'sound words' for that.

    I think the most "creative" I've ever gotten was "thwack" when the character hits the steering wheel of his car in frustration.

  9. Good point, Terry. And what about when they write, "Ha, ha, ha!" As dialogue/laughter. That feels so bizarre.

    So Hank, I think you consider your decision never to use sound words. Those are darned good!

    Excellent entries, Peg & C.L.!

  10. This is hard. I tend to "write sounds." For instance, my heroine throws a punch which lands on her nemesis's nose. I described it like this:

    Curled knuckles met soft nasal cartilage with a satisfying sound much like a melon splattering on concrete.

    Shotguns make a sort of "kablam" sound.

    Sound of a popgun being fired: pawp

    Sound of a silenced pistol--a hard perettt followed by a thwack as it hits target

    Sound of a high caliber weapon: A 9mm has a slightly metallic sound, like a wooden hammer banging on steel (rather than a metal hammer on wood) and does sound a lot like ba-ba-bang-bang-banggggg.

    Sound of a distant gunfire:crackle-pop-pop-pop (Think fireworks on the 4th of July. Yes, really.) The trained ear can tell the difference between fire crackers and gunshots because guns have that "metallic" sound that I have no clue how to describe.

  11. Sound of a shotgun being fired

    Sound of a popgun being fired

    Sound of a silenced pistol being fired

    Sound of a high caliber weapon being fired

    Sound of a distant gunfire

  12. Obviously, I have little imagination when it comes to sound.
    Sound of a shotgun being fired: BAM!
    Sound of a popgun being fired: Pop!
    Sound of a silenced pistol being fired: Pffft
    Sound of a high caliber weapon being fired: Bang
    Sound of a distant gunfire: Rat-ta-tat-tat-tat (war); pop-pop-bang-pop (gang bangers)

  13. I wish I'd heard the sound of the cat vomiting on the rug in the corner of my office. Must have occurred while I was in another room making other sounds. Now I need to make the sound of a vacuum cleaner and a sponge, and the spray bottle of Spot Shot!

  14. Great entries--and I like the reasoning that accompanied...very creative!

    AND THE WINNER IS... randomly drawn from the entrants which were excellent - Alyx Morgan (morganalyx)

    Alyx email me off the blog (send it to hallie at hallieephron dot com) and let me now which book you want and where to send it!